It would seem that the intrepid divers who in 1966 visited the wreck of the S.S. Bretagne also known as the Teignmouth Coal Boat were not the first to take an interest in her. On the 11th June 1921 this all too brief paragraph, under the headings: LYMPSTONE / COAL FROM THE SEA, appeared in the Exmouth Journal:
A few of the fishermen have had some remarkably good luck in ‘discovering’ or rather removing coal from the sea. A good many people will remember a vessel being mined off Teignmouth during the war. The cargo consisted of a large quantity of coal and other things. By inventions of their own some of the men have been able to recover a good quantity which they have generously shared with others not so fortunate.
This report raises many questions. It would seem clear that the Lympstone men were removing coal from the Bretagne. There was, as far as I know no other coal boat sunk off Teignmouth between 1914 and 1918. If so they had been plundering a wreck six miles offshore but how did they do it? At high water her deck is some eighteen metres below the surface and the cargo is even now said to be shut up in the holds of the vessel. What were the ‘inventions of their own’? Were they the only fishermen taking coal from the Bretagne? Was 1921 the only year coal was taken from her?
I have no answers. It is fun though to think of those little Lympstone fishing boats, laden with Welsh coal, chugging or sailing back into the Estuary. 1921 was a bad year in the village. The mussel industry had come to a standstill. The free fuel must have been very welcome. There was clearly enough of it to fill the fishermen’s own coal holes and those of their neighbours. I like to think that during the winter of 1921/1922 there were many fireside grins at the thought of the coal plundered from the sea.